With Scott Orn

A Startup Podcast by Kruze Consulting

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Scott Orn

Scott Orn, CFA

Pitch Guide is an AI tool that analyzes and improves pitch decks

Posted on: 05/05/2024

Haje Kamps

Haje Kamps

Founder & Pitch Coach - Pitch Guide

Haje Kamps of Pitch Guide - Podcast Summary

Haje Kamps explains how Pitch Guide, an AI tool that analyzes pitch decks, helps founders improve their fundraising pitches by suggesting improvements and enhancements.

Haje Kamps of Pitch Guide - Podcast Transcript

Healy: Hey, hello, and welcome to the Kruze Consulting Founder and Friends Podcast. I’m your host, Healy Jones. I’m the VP of financial strategy here at Kruze Consulting. I am delighted to be joined by my friend, Haje Kamps. Haje is the author for TechCrunch who writes the Pitch Deck Teardown Series, where at this point, he tells me he’s analyzed over 80 pitch decks for companies that have successfully raised over $1.8 billion in venture financing. That’s a big number. Amazing. He also is a pitch deck consultant and helps individually consult with founders who are looking to improve their pitch deck as they’re raising venture funding; and very excitingly, has produced a product called Pitch Guide, which is an AI tool for analyzing venture capital pitch decks. So, we’re going to dive in and chat with Haje in just a second, but first, a quick word from our sponsor. Hey, this is Healy Jones, VP of Financial Strategy here at Kruze Consulting, andI want to say thanks to our podcast sponsor, ARC. At Kruze, we’ve got a number of clients successfully using ARC to manage their deposits, payments, access financing, all in one place. One of the things that ARC provides that’s really great is over a quarter of a million dollars in FDIC coverage. Their insurance program goes beyond the standard limit and it secures up to five and a quarter million dollars. So, startups that have even more cash than that can go and access treasury solutions to provide yield and safety. If you’re a startup looking for a secure financial solution that can help you scale, please check out our sponsor ARC at Hey, and welcome back. So, Haje, how are you doing?
Haje: You know what? I’m doing great. How are you?
Healy: Great. It’s wonderful to see you. We haven’t recorded something, I think, since we did the pitch deck course a while ago, so it’s really great to get you back on camera.
Haje: That’s right. That’s been a minute.
Healy: I know. It seems like you’ve been pretty busy here. I know you’re actively consulting with a bunch of companies, but you also have the Pitch Deck Teardown Series on TechCrunch, which I always find fascinating, and I like the way you sort of are both helpful yet maybe a little bit direct in your feedback to founders over there is pretty awesome.
Haje: There’s definitely some entertainment snark happening.
Healy: It’s definitely snark. Yeah. It’s a good word. It’s really fun. You’ve seen over 80 pitch decks over there, and these companies have generally been pretty successful, right? What are some of the insights that you have gotten out of looking at all of these pitch decks that have been successful over the past couple of years?
Haje: Yeah, totally. I mean, I don’t do tear-downs of decks unless they were successful. So per definition, all the ones that are on the Pitch Deck Teardown Series successfully raised funding. They range from-
Healy: Okay. Well, a little survivorship bias there?
Haje: Very much so. They range from just under a million, to I think the biggest one was 60 or 70 million. So, there’s a pretty big span from early pre-seed, right up to series E, I think, is the latest one I did? But, yeah. think there’s some really interesting things that happen. And the thing that confuses me more than anything is that a lot of the time, the decks, sometimes I’m like, “Okay. This is a successful deck. Am I going to find anything that is wrong with it?” And it turns out sometimes I’m like, “I can’t find anything good with this deck.”
Healy: Wow. Okay.
Haje: And currently, the last three or four pitch deck teardowns I did, I’m really struggling to find anything good to say about them, and yet-
Healy: Wow. And these-
Haje: … they were successful.
Healy: … companies were successful? They were successful in fundraising?
Haje: Yeah. I mean, the last few raised 10 million, 3 million, 11 million, and I’m just sitting here going, “I don’t know how this company raised money.” Genuinely, have no idea how they were successful.
Healy: So is it a problem with the company, or just the deck?
Haje: Well, I would like to think that it’s just the deck. And the reason I’m saying that is that a VC stuck a hand into their pocket and gave them a ton of money. So presumably, did that for a good reason, that they’re not all being hoodwinked. But I think-
Healy: Yeah. I would say 2021 has proved that maybe VCs are not omnipotent gods. But anyway, proceed with your-
Haje: Fair, fair, fair, fair.
Healy: Continue.
Haje: What I think, though, is that the kind of platonic ideal pitch deck has all the information you want to see in a pitch deck, right? It turns out if you are a founder that has extraordinary founder market fit, you don’t really need a perfect pitch deck. The fact that you exist and the fact that you have such a good insight into this market, so you, yourself, you become the competitive advantage, and the moat, and the person you are covers a lot of the stuff that other people have to explain in a pitch deck. Or, alternatively, if you have some really impressive traction going on, traction forgives all sins, right? And so it doesn’t really matter what else you’ve done. If you are on paper, a bad founder, but you’re growing 50% week on week and you have done for three years, you’re going to raise money, basically.
Healy: For sure. Oh, that’s true. I mean, think about it this way. If Jeff Bezos wanted to raise venture capital funding for some reason, like a modest amount of venture capital funding, he would not need a pitch deck, he would need an email, right? So-
Haje: Right.
Healy: … that’s kind of the extreme, I would say, right?
Haje: Yeah, totally. But I also think there is, the purist in me is like, “You may as well do this right,” right? I feel like sometimes, you ask me what people commonly get wrong, and it’s almost always the use of funds. And the whole purpose of building a pitch deck is to raise money, and with that money, you’re going to do something. The amount f times that founders fail to tell the investors what they’re actually planning to do with the money just boggles my mind, and I’m like, “This is the easiest way to explain what you’re trying to do.” It’s like, “Hey, the company looks like this now. In 18 months, we will spend $10 million, and now it looks like this.” Really simply, the question becomes, are you able to raise the next round of funding, or are you able to have another major event in the company based on the way you project the company will look like? If you don’t do that-
Healy: So basically, it’s-
Haje: … then I get irrationally angry about that, because it seems so simple.
Healy: So I spend a lot of time working with founders on that, because the team I work with is helping our Kruze clients prepare their financial models. And obviously, the financial model’s going to go out past the next fundraise, right? So, I speak with them, like, “What are you going to look like before that next funding round? Are you going to be fundable? And are you going to have the trajectory? Are you going to have the margins? Are you going to kind of have the team put together in the model?” It’s like, “Do you have all these headcounts actually on your expenses and things like that,” right? So, I try to get folks to think about that quite a bit, but I definitely-
Haje: The visual that springs to my mind is somebody going to their parents and going, “Dad, can I have some money?” And Dad goes, “Sure. What do you want it for?” “No.” It’s like, “What are you doing?” Right? It’s very basic storytelling. Know what you want the money for, and then maybe you get the money.
Healy: How do founders react to having their pitch decks analyzed publicly by you? You’re not always kind. You are pretty snarky. What kind of reactions do you get from the founders?
Haje: Overwhelmingly positive, even for the ones where I essentially completely rip them to shreds.
Healy: Wow, that’s great.
Haje: Yeah. In fact, I’ve had some really good conversations with founders who are like, “Huh, yeah. My fundraise would’ve been much easier if I had not made those mistakes, because in your Pitch Deck Teardown, you told me, ‘I’m confused why this team is the right team,’ and that is where I spent most of my time with trying to convince the VCs. If I just-“
Healy: Wow.
Haje: “… explained that story properly, then that would’ve saved me a ton of time in fundraising.” And so that’s the thing I don’t see, right? As part of this, it’s just the pitch deck in isolation. What I don’t see is whether they also have a whole bunch of spreadsheets that back up the information. I don’t know what their relationship is with the investors, right? If you’re going to go and raise some money from somebody who’s already on your board, well, they have most of the information, right? They don’t really need a pitch deck. And so, I think sometimes, that’s the obfuscation that happens along the way.
Healy: What are some of the things that you think or you’ve seen make a pitch really stand out, recently, in particular, now that it’s harder to raise funding?
Haje: I think having an incredible amount of clarity about what the value is you are offering to a customer. To me, it’s always, especially in the earlier stages, it’s all about founder-market fit. But once you have a little bit of traction, it’s like, “Okay. What is the value you offer to a customer? Is the problem you’re solving painful enough that they’re willing to pay for it? And within that, is the market you’re going after big enough?” And between those three things, presuming that you have a decent go-to-market strategy and you have a decent product and all that kind of stuff, but I think that is where a lot of the doubt sneaks in, is if you’re able to explain, “Hey, this is a real problem,” but you’re not really explaining what the value proposition is, or why should somebody actually stick their hand in their pocket to pay for something? That’s where people sometimes get a little bit fluffy. And the founders that do that extremely well have a much, much easier fundraising journey.
Healy: Hmm. That’s pretty awesome. You touched on something a little bit there, which is sort of kind of the vision around the product and things like that. And actually, I’ve been noticing Jason Lemkin, who’s a well-known SaaS investor, has been talking about sort of eventually you need to add an extra product to your SaaS business. I definitely work with founders who are in a really neat niche or neat market, but have a small product now. How have you seen founders articulate, “Hey, this is where we’re starting, but we’re going to expand into other things”? What have you seen work?
Haje: Yeah. That’s a really good question. I often have these conversations with especially very early-stage founders, who have this incredibly huge vision for what they’re going to do. And I’m like, “Look, if you’re trying to pitch this, you just come across as super unfocused.” Yes, you can use this product for 30 different things, but that doesn’t help your marketing. If you have a super-niche, super-focused marketing story, you can say, “Hey, my target customer looks like this, we reach them like this, the customer acquisition cost is that, and then their lifetime value is this,” you get a super clean, simple story. But then you might end up with a company that has a $20 million ARR upper limit.
Healy: Yeah. TAM is not big enough, right? Yeah.
Haje: Exactly. But the cool thing about telling the story that way is, hey, this is our playground. This is our MVP. This is where we build the product and can do really quick product iterations. After we take on the entire this market, we can go after this adjacent market, or we can go after this new geography, or we can go after this other thing. And so often, as a storytelling tool, I encourage founders to use the then-now-next framework. The then is the history of the company. What have you done so far? Now, it’s okay, right now, the reason you should invest now is that something has unlocked. Are you using AI? Is there some regulatory [inaudible 00:11:17]? What is the thing that makes now the right time to invest in this company? That is really the now for this. And then next, you’re like, “Okay, for this funding round, we’re doing A, B, C, and once we’ve done A, B, C, our ARR goes up to $70 million. And once we’ve done that, we can unlock a massive series B growth round. When the company looks like this, our analysis indicates that that will be an easy round to raise, or that will be an easy company to raise a series B for.” And so by tying the story together that way, and having a really clear, “These are the industries and segments we’re in now, and this is where we’re going to expand to, using the same playbook,” or, “We’re running a couple of experiments to figure out what the playbook will be for the new things,” that’s a way you can really tease out the growth trajectory for a company. It’s so important.
Healy: I like that. I like that then-now-next framework. That’s really solid. That’s amazing. That’s really great. A lot of the pitch decks you’ve analyzed in the Teardown Series have been companies that are raising their series A. What does it take to raise a series A right now?
Haje: It’s rough out there. It’s really rough out there. I think it’s down to business basics. I think in a world where a lot of people are tightening their belts, there’s lots of layouts. Layouts. Lots of layoffs. There is this undercurrent of VC funding drying up. And it’s a slightly economically complex piece, but realistically, what it boils down to is that the LPs don’t have to take as much risk to get as much returns as they have been. And so why would they? And so, if an LP can just buy government bonds and get a 10% internal rate of return, why would you bother taking a risk on startups? Yes, you might have a bigger upside, but the economy is wonky. Take the 10%, stick them in your pocket, right? Don’t worry about it. Worry about doing high-risk investments later. And I think some VCs are starting to see that. Some VCs are saying, “Hey, we’ve raised four funds. The fifth fund, it’s getting harder,” right? Or the LPs come back with smaller checks. They’re like, “Hey, yeah. We’ve been in for 10 million several years in a row. This year, we want to do 3 million, because everything has just shifted.” So that is happening right now, right? But I feel the knock-on effects, we won’t really start seeing them for another two, three years, when the VCs have spent all their dry powder, realize it’s harder to raise funding, they tighten their belts a little bit. And so, with all of those things being true, I think the shrewd place to invest as a VC would be to invest in companies that have the basics right. Who can tighten their belts, who can hit cashflow-neutral if they have to, in order to extend their runways and maybe grow slower, but to keep growing, rather than careening towards the mountain and having no way of pulling out of the tailspin.
Healy: Yeah. We did an analysis for our clients last year that succeeded in raising a series A, and then we actually compared it to our seed-funded companies that went bankrupt, who tried to raise and couldn’t basically, and we definitely saw a strong movement into great unit economics. The average company that succeeded in raising had 80% gross margin, but that’s actually a very good gross margin, right? Yeah. And then they also had superior burn multiples. Of course, they also had great growth as well. I think the median growth rate was 600% or something like that, so they’re still growing pretty well. But they had this, it’s actually with a focus on unit economics being good. And I just feel like the pendulum has swung to smart growth, as opposed to growth at all costs. But founders do also need to internalize it’s not no growth. You have to still be growing pretty fast, which is hard. It’s really hard. It’s you got to do everything at once. All right. So, let’s pivot a little bit into your Pitch Guide, your AI tool for helping founders analyze their pitch deck. What’s the genesis to this? Why did you make this? What is this?
Haje: So I’ve always been super curious about technology, right? And one of the technologies you may have heard of is AI. You can’t-
Healy: I’ve heard of that one. I don’t know why or where. Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Somewhere, I’ve heard it.
Haje: Yeah. So, it’s everywhere. And I was like, “Okay, what can I do with AI? What are the curious things that I can do with AI?” And what I realized is that my general take on AI is that it is mediocre at everything, right? I’m a very good writer, which means that the AI is not a good replacement for me as a writer. It can be mediocre, but I’m not mediocre. I’m a good writer. And I was like, “Wait, what are the things that I’m less good at where the AI can pull me up?” And I started throwing a ton of pitch decks at AIs to say, “Hey, what do these have in common?” Just super-vague questions, right? What does this have in common? What is missing? And I have a massive library of pitch decks. I think I probably have about 3000 pitch decks. And-
Healy: Wow.
Haje: … that means that these are all proprietary. I can’t do anything with them for real, but I can do massive analysis using AI, and machine learning, and that kind of thing. And at one point, I was like, “Hey, I can’t really get this to tell me whether a pitch deck will be successful or not.” It’s not very good at predicting that. But what it was pretty good at is, “Hey, this pitch deck is different from all the other ones, and here’s the differences. It doesn’t have a team slide.” I was like, “Oh. That’s interesting, because team slides tend to be very, very important in pitch decks.” And so, at some point, I was like, “Wait a minute. What if I create a list of all the things that need to exist in a pitch deck?” And then use that as a checklist, basically, and say to the AI, “Hey, in this pitch deck, can you find a team slide? And if yes, does it look like these 500 pitch decks that have good team slides? And in this pitch deck, can you find a good ask and use a fund slide? And if so, does it look like all of these other ones?” I’ve written two books about this now, I’ve written thousands of articles, and so I’ve taken all of that information, fed it into an AI that is running on a computer right next to me here. And eventually, I was like, “Wait a minute. This thing is actually really good at figuring out what is bad about a pitch deck.” And from there, I hooked it up to an LLM that generates a report and basically says, “Okay. On the team slide, is it good, is it medium, is it bad? Is it missing?” And then based on all the writing I’ve ever done about this, find a couple of suggestions for things to improve, put it on the slide, and move on to the next slide. And I was playing with it, and I was like, “This is really fun. It’s actually pretty accurate at finding the things that’s missing or finding the things that are bad. What would happen if I let this loose on people?” Well, it turns out this bot has probably looked at about 1000 pitch decks now-
Healy: Awesome.
Haje: Some of them were utter garbage. The bot goes, “I don’t know what’s going on here,” basically. “This is a terrible pitch deck.” And I take a look at it manually, and it’s like, “Yeah, that’s because it’s a sales deck. It’s not actually a VC deck,” right? That kind of thing. But it’s ben extraordinary. I’ve had incredibly good feedback. There’re people who’ve put the same deck through, do an improvement, and then put it through again 15, 16 times.
Healy: That’s great.
Haje: And so are using it as an iterative improvement thing, which I think is really cool.
Healy: That’s awesome. That’s great. So, you and I did something a while ago that was really fun. We did a whole course around how to make a startup pitch deck. It’s available at And, as part of that, we had a couple of free pitch deck templates that we gave away, one you’d used before, and another one we made specifically for this course. It was a B2B, kind of B-to-SMB pitch deck called Four Ps, which is intended to be a CRM for plumbers. So, we weren’t really trying to do this business. This was just an example pitch deck. And so, I ran this through your AI pitch guide, and so why don’t we take a look and see how it did? So, first of all, I’m going to just maybe whip through the pitch deck itself, does that make sense? So, people can see it, and then we’ll see what it said, okay? And again, this is not a real business. We just made this business up to try to illustrate what a pretty good-looking pitch deck is. All right? Okay. I’ll share my screen over here, and we’ll see how we do. This is our four Ps, right? And I really like the fact that you insisted that we put this quick thing on the front page, and made it super clear what we’re doing. Salesforce for plumbing. That was really great. Okay?
Haje: Yep.
Healy: We talk about the problem, we’ve got a solution slide. We talk a little bit more about how it works, so this is getting into kind of product. There’s a demo, which obviously the AI system couldn’t see. We talk about the market size, our business model. So basically, what we’re going to charge and things like that, where we’ll get additional revenue streams. Our go-to-market strategy, the competitive landscape with a four-by-four versus, call it, a two-by-two? I guess it’s called a two by two, right? Our team slide, operating plan with a bunch of numbers on it showing ARR growth. My favorite slide, which you say is not always necessary, the five-year financial metrics, a traction slide with a beautiful up-into-the-right hockey stick chart. And then a question slide, operating summary, and then sort of a timing slide at the end. Okay? So, let’s see how it did. Are you ready?
Haje: I am ready.
Healy: All right. First of all, here we go. My first question is, do you put this guy with the backpack and a boiler on everyone? Or where’d you come up with this image?
Haje: So actually, this was one of the fun things that I started doing. It’s how much information can I customize on these reports? And so, this actually took the text of those 16 slides.
Healy: So this is a plumber, basically?
Haje: Yeah. He’s down there in a boiler room. And basically, it was a sentiment analysis on the pitch deck, and it came up with the key keywords plumber, I think. And, well, plumber was certainly one of them. And then I have a very specific prompt that generates an image that is kind of in the style of pitch guide. And-
Healy: Wow.
Haje: … so every one of these reports has a completely different cover image.
Healy: Totally customized. Amazing. All right. I’m more impressed now. I’m glad I asked. All right. So, first of all-
Haje: It’s fun.
Healy: … the kind of notes on this, it’s fine, it’s explains what’s in the review here. So, the next slide for the people on the podcast who aren’t watching on YouTube, it says what’s in this review, how it works, the executive summary, high-priority slides, medium-priority stuff, overall likelihood of fundraising, how to get more help and statistics. All right. So how this review works, it says red flag when you got a problem; yellow flag, it means you could use some pointers; and green flag is good to go. And is this image custom as well? Or is this-
Haje: So it’s custom, but it doesn’t change as often as the cover image.
Healy: Okay, amazing. All right. Now, we’ve got a summary here with some green flags, a few yellow flags, and then one red flag, right? Yeah. I won’t get into all of these, but it likes our summary, it likes our team and market and things like that. It’s questioning how venture scale we are, target base. It’s saying we’re missing unit economics, but the thing is, I don’t necessarily agree with that. The why it’s hard, and then the moat is missing, it says, which is 100% true, so shame on us for starting a company has no moat.
Haje: Totally.
Healy: Or at least not articulate it.
Haje: So, I just pulled up all the statistics I have for all the pitch decks that have ever been created on here.
Healy: Okay. Do you want to present that? Or you want to just talk to it?
Haje: No, no. I do want to call something out. So, this particular pitch deck has a 86.7% chance of success, which is a hilariously accurate number.
Healy: It’s very precise. It’s very precise. Yeah.
Haje: But it’s one of only 7% of all decks that were annualized that actually gets a high rating in terms of chance of successful fundraise.
Healy: Okay. So maybe it’s supposed to put together-
Haje: So this is an extraordinarily good deck compared to what a lot of people put through here.
Healy: Okay, amazing. Okay. Well, actually, I’m not too surprised, given that you made this deck.
Haje: I mean, sure. And it’s all my writing that backs this thing, but yeah. It’s-
Healy: Exactly. All right. High-priority items. So, venture scale, so it’s saying for the folks on the podcast, it’s not clear how P2P will generate a venture scale return. Make a stronger case for delivering a billion-dollar outcome. The deck should show that it could deliver a 100X return for VCs, so that’s probably fair. I mean, I think we talked some about how big it is, but this is a common problem that I’m sure you see and I see for founders pitching. They don’t really articulate how big this is going to be, although there’s some founders who actually don’t have a vision that’s big enough to justify raising venture, and instead, they should seek bank financing or something, right? But how would you rate this based on kind of what you know of the deck that we made?
Haje: I think it’s probably pretty accurate. I mean, the reason why this is literally the first slide is that a lot of the people who use this tool, I mean, in fact, I’ll give you the exact number, only about 45% of the decks that this tool has seen are venture-scale.
Healy: Interesting.
Haje: Which means that the vast majority of them, or slightly more than half of them, just literally couldn’t raise VC money no matter how good the rest of the deck is.
Healy: Right, because it’s just too small. Yeah.
Haje: Yeah. It’s just something I have to talk to founders about a lot, where I’m like, “What you’re trying to do here fundamentally does not make sense. You cannot go and raise venture funding. It does not fit with-“
Healy: Wow.
Haje: “… the venture model.”
Healy: Okay. Wow. All right. So, let me kind of go back to our other deck here. I’ll share my screen again. We’ll see what we did, and then I would love your analysis on it. Okay. So, this is our deck problem, and we’ve got a market slide in here. We’ll just scroll through it here. What do you think? Is this good enough or not? Is this a yellow flag in your mind? Your AI identified this as a yellow flag slide?
Haje: Yeah. I mean, I don’t love bottom-up market sizing for companies that have identifiable market sizes, right? This could have been done with a TAM SAM SOM approach, which is top-down market sizing. I think for this one, we chose to do bottom-up, because we wanted to have that as an example, and we did top-down in the other deck, so that’s really the reason we did that. But really what-
Healy: Okay. Fair enough.
Haje: … we’re saying here, that there’s a number of licensed plumbers, but we’re not really getting to the point about how big is this market, actually.
Healy: I agree. I do see problems with founders who say, “Hey, this is a $100 billion market,” and you’re like, “Yeah. People spend $100 billion buying that thing, but they don’t spend $100 billion on the software they use to buy that thing,” right?
Haje: Totally. Yeah. So, I mean, the annual spend on plumbing is 124 billion. That is not all going to software, right? The vast majority of that is toilets and pipes and whatever-
Healy: People. Yeah.
Haje: And so there’s nothing in here that actually explains how much plumbers are spending on their CRM systems.
Healy: Okay, great. All right. Good. So, we’re in agreement that the AI did an okay job here. That’s great. All right. So, the team, it loves the team. That’s great. I love our made-up people in this team too. If you ever have to make people up-
Haje: Yeah. If you’re going to make up a team, you may as well make up a good team, right?
Healy: Exactly. Yeah. So here now, it’s talking about the market, and what’s the differentiation between this and venture-scale? So, is this actually how we help the VCs understand what the underlying concept of the market is? Is that the difference between venture scale, I guess?
Haje: Yes. I mean, the two are obviously very closely related, but it is possible to be in an enormous market and still not be venture-scale. So, if you are modeling out that you’re saying, “Okay. We are going to take on the entire car sales market,” and you’re saying, “We’re going to take 15% off the market,” I just don’t believe you, right? It’s unlikely. If your assumptions around your business size are completely unrealistic, then the market size could be green, but your venture scale, it doesn’t work.
Healy: Got it. Makes a lot of sense. And so, you’re suggesting only 66, so two thirds of founders actually get this slide right? That’s-
Haje: Yeah. So, I mean, this analysis we did on that one is a little bit older, so let me take a look here. 55% is the current number.
Healy: So, it’s actually gotten worse. Okay.
Haje: Yeah.
Healy: That’s interesting that it’s so hard, but here’s one that looks like a lot of people get right, which is traction. And obviously, if you’re making up a company to raise funding, don’t do that, by the way, it’s probably illegal, you’re going to show good traction. And we do a good job showing traction here. This is one of the things that I work with our founders a lot. I want to make sure particularly when they’re doing well, we kind of move it to the front, so great. Great job.
Haje: Yeah. And I think this is the thing, right? Traction is king. If you have traction, almost nothing else matters.
Healy: Right, right. The ask, so explain what we’re looking for. And does this one also say what we’re going to do with it, or no? It does, right?
Haje: No. The use of fund is kind of the next part of that. But the ask slide, the thing people often get wrong there is to say a range. “I’m raising two to five million.” It’s like, “No, you’re not. That’s insane. You’re raising one or the other of that number, and that is your plan A. I only want to see the plan A in the pitch deck.” We can talk about what happens if you don’t manage to raise the full round but saying that you have a massive range just doesn’t make sense. The other ting people get wrong is to put the terms in there. They’re saying we’re raising two millions at a $10 million valuation, and I’m like, “No you’re not.” That’s entirely up for conversation. There’s no point in putting that in the deck at all.
Healy: All right. Use of funds. So, first of all, you’re saying only 6% of startups get this one right? Is that-
Haje: Yeah. … probabl-
Healy: It’s 4% now. Wow. So, people are getting worse?
Haje: Yup.
Healy: What is this slide? What is the use-of-fund slide?
Haje: The use-of-fund slides is, okay, you’ve now raised your $10 million. What are you going to accomplish with that? And so really, what the bot is looking for here is not a runway, because nobody gives a crap about your runway. Yes, in terms of running the business, for sure. But really, it’s about milestones. Your investor is giving you $10 million to hit certain milestones, and if it takes 12 months, great. If it takes 18 months, also great, as long as your company doesn’t die along the way. And so, I think runway, so and if you’re saying, “I’m raising $10 million to have an 18-month runway,” it’s like, “Yes, but you’re not getting into the underlying reason for why you’re spending the money.” The other thing people get wrong is doing percentages. We’re going to spend a third on product, a third on marketing, and a third on OpEx. Sure, but that is not the milestones. So, this slide needs to help me understand whether or not at the end of this funding cycle, the company is sufficiently de-risked to be able to raise money.
Healy: Okay. And I strongly agree with that. I spend time talking with founders, “Hey, the VC is going to want to know what you look like when you next fundraise,” because they’re giving you a dollar, and they want to have something that’s worth two or three dollars. Also, and they want to have something that’s highly likely to kind of raise that next round, right? So it’s incredibly important to say what you’re going to look like at the end of this thing. And it’s a little sad that only 6 or 4%, or whatever, of founders are doing that. So, if you take anything away from this discussion, it explains what you’re going to look like when you’re running out of money and fundraising next. The problem, so I was a little surprised. I actually am not sure I fully agree with the AI’s output on this. I felt like we did a pretty good job of talking about the problem in our deck. AI is not-
Haje: I think you’re right, actually. I think the AI got it wrong here. So, I think the problem is real. I mean, the only maybe thing that I would’ve added here is the impact of the problem, right? The problem and problem impact are often part of the same story, but yeah. I think the AI may have misread a slide. The problem of course, is I have no idea what data it’s using to make its feedback. So, this is where it’s-
Healy: That’s the fault of AI.
Haje: … a giant fistful of salt.
Healy: Exactly. Yup. It says we got our solution well, which is great. It seems like this is the one that startups do a good job talking about the solution, which is probably fair because they’re building a product, right?
Haje: Yeah. And I think that’s getting better. Right now, 79% of companies. So, it’s a little bit lower, but it’s the solution is one that people by and large get right, which is very encouraging, because this is what we’re going to do. The product is kind of where the rubber hits the road. I always differentiate solution and product, mostly because the way I think about this is that you can pivot on product, you can’t pivot on solution. If you pivot on solution, you may as well start a new company kind of thing. Does that make sense?
Healy: I’ve seen people pivot on that before.
Haje: Sure, sure.
Healy: But, okay. I’ve seen it go from this market, this solution, this problem, to, “We’re going to go all the way over here.”
Haje: Right. And it does happen. It does happen, but it is exponentially harder.
Healy: I agree with you.
Haje: I think the problem we have with product is actually, we already alluded to it, there’s no demo in here, there’s no screenshots. It doesn’t really show what the product does or how much of it is built. And between all of those things, I think the bot is just like, “Hmm. I don’t really know what to do with this.”
Healy: Yeah. I would say as a founder, if you have a short, tight demo, you’ve got your product covered, right? To the extent that you’re not selling the product, you’re selling the company, so make sure you understand what you’re demoing. But a demo goes a long way here. Value proposition-
Haje: Yeah. And what I’m actually encouraging these days is that founders add a couple of appendix slides that have screenshots of the product. In the actual pitch, you do a demo, but if somebody’s just quickly clicking through the deck, it’s helpful to be able to see just visually how much of the product is built and what it looks like.
Healy: Great. All right. So, the value prop, what does it even mean the value prop? What does that mean?
Haje: Good question. I think for me, the value proposition is really how valuable is it to a customer to have their problem solved? It’s rarely a separate slide, to be fair. It often comes up either in the problem statement, in the solution statement, or in the product, where it’s like, “Hey, it’s kind of tied to the impact of the problem.” And so, it’s how important is it for this customer to have this problem solved, and what is that? How do you talk about what the value is that you are creating? Do you solve pain? Do you increase speed? Do you increase efficiency? Even just one of those words to help kind of anchor what the benefit is of the product means that you have a value prop.
Healy: That’s great. And so, I do think this is pretty meta. Did you ask the AI to list out value prop? Or it decided to do that as you were doing this? Because, again, it’s not a slide, right? It’s pulling it out-
Haje: It’s not a slide-
Healy: … from-
Haje: Yeah.
Healy: But how did it know to talk about value prop? Did-
Haje: It’s one of the things on the checklist. It’s one of the things that it knows to look for.
Healy: You put that on the checklist, though? Or did AI make the checklist?
Haje: Well- You made the checklist? Okay.
Healy: What it recognized was that most of the successful pitch decks had some level of description around value prop. And so I added it to the checklist, but it ended up on the checklist because that was something that successful decks had in common. Neat. Really cool. Target customer. So, this is a little surprising to me, because I feel like our pitch deck was incredibly clear that it was a particular type of plumbers we were targeting, so yeah. I’m going to ding AI a tiny bit on this one unless you disagree, but that’s okay. [inaudible 00:35:56]-
Haje: Yeah. So, I’m kind of looking at the sales and go-to-market slide now, and it doesn’t actually explicitly say who the customer is. Although, if you are a human being looking at this pitch deck, you’re like, “The customer is plumbers. It’s not rocket science.”
Healy: Yeah. It’s not that hard. Okay, yeah.
Haje: And so I think this is where a human would just infer, “This is plumbers. I get it,” right? You don’t really have to think too hard about it. Another thig that the AI sometimes gets wrong is market sizing when the market is so obvious. If you are saying, “I’m going after AWS,” you don’t really have to say more. Any investor that might invest understands how big and important this market is, and so you don’t really have to dwell on it. And so, I think this is where the AI sometimes comes up short, where it just doesn’t know the stuff that humans go, “Yeah, of course.”
Healy: That makes sense. Yeah. Amazing. Go-to-market, I think we did a great job on this one. I am really surprised at this number here, only 7% of startups get the go-to-market slide right. That’s pretty tough, actually.
Haje: It is pretty tough. Oh, it’s still 7%. The thing people get wrong is that they’re not specific. And what I mean is somebody goes and says, “Oh. We’re going to do social media, and ads, and whatever for our go-to market.” It’s like, “I’m sure you are, but what is your customer acquisition cost? How are you actually going to execute? Do you have a playbook for your B2B sales? Do you have salespeople? What does your sales funnel look like?” Right? There’s so any questions you could throw at go-to-market, and occasionally, I just see a slide that is essentially a brainstorm. I was like, “This is not a strategy, this is a brainstorm.” Well done for having done the brainstorm. Now, let’s see the strategy.
Healy: Right. I wonder how that changes if it’s a series B or series C or series D deck. I bet the go-to-market’s a lot better-articulated. Kind of the-
Haje: Absolutely. And I have to kind of throw a little flag here is that this deck, this AI, is best for people raising between zero and about $20 million. That’s where the vast bulk of my dataset is, that is where my expertise is. This is where all my pitch coaching clients are, right? So, one of the datasets that went into this tool is recordings of all the pitch coaching calls I’ve ever done.
Healy: No kidding. That’s amazing.
Haje: So there’s hours and hours, tens of thousands of words of advice that I’ve given, but again, it’s super biased towards earlier-stage founders.
Healy: Amazing. Wow. That’s a pretty intense dataset. That’s awesome.
Haje: This is why it’s running on my personal computer here, because there’s a lot of proprietary data here, and I cannot share it with OpenAI.
Healy: All right. So, medium-priority stuff. So, I guess the order is we’ve got the sort of easier stuff ahead of time, and now, this higher-priority stuff? Or no? What do we have here? What-
Haje: So the first stuff is if you get something wrong here, you probably won’t raise money. From the medium-priority stuff onwards, the way I think about it, and I could actually maybe explain that a little bit better in this deck or in this feedback, the way I think about it is that you can afford to screw up here. If you have green flags in your first 18 review slides, and then you have yellow flags the rest, you might still be successful in raising money. But this is the focus your attention on the stuff above this slide, and then from here onwards, it’s kind of bonus points.
Healy: Okay, great. All right. So, it liked our summary, which is great. Did you write this? Something about rhubarb and setting the stage? Where did that come from?
Haje: Yeah. The stuff on the right is kind of pre-written, so it’s kind of-
Healy: Good. I wouldn’t imagine AI was that good at humor, because we pivoted with jokes-
Haje: I’m usually not that good at humor, but yes.
Healy: Okay. Competition, we did well. I do think we did a nice job with that. I love our little two-by-two there. Business model, yeah. We definitely nailed that. Pricing, yeah. We made that pretty easy to understand. We list the price points out and who it’s for. It’s great, yeah. Operating plan. I would assume the ones that fail here just don’t even have operating plans for the most part.
Haje: Most don’t have operating plans, most don’t have any financials at all. And so really, the operating plan, this particular piece of feedback looks for any financials at all. If you have any financials at all, you probably get a yellow flag. If you also break it down in a readable way, you get a green flag.
Healy: Great. Okay.
Haje: And really, it’s about the complexity of the financial operating plan. If it’s in any way readable, you get a pretty decent score there.
Healy: Yeah. So, unit economics, so we do have a couple of financial projections and models in here where we may be covering this. So, this might be wrong, but maybe I’m off. What does this actually mean when you say unit economics?
Haje: The way I tend to think about unit economics is kind of twofold. It’s what is your unit economics now, and what happens at scale? And so really, what that means is if you are able to make a decent profit margin now, but once your sales go massively up, and you have many more customers, and you get the benefit of economics of scale, for example, in an AI startup because your dataset grows, or in a hardware startup because you get better deals with your factory or whatever, then that basically means that your company gets more and more efficient over time. And I think the AI is looking for some sort of hint about whether you have clarity of what your COGS is and whether the COGS is improving over time.
Healy: Okay. All right. So, I think AI probably messed up. We do have some real models in here. The thing I would point out is, I already mentioned this earlier in this podcast, that unit economics do matter right now. VCs are looking for companies that have good unit economics or have a path to good unit economics, so it is pretty important to articulate how you improve, or even if you’re good now, why you’re good now. You want to make that very clear.
Haje: Yeah. When I saw this deck review, actually, I ended up looking into it, because I agree that we do have a unit economics, and I discovered what the problem was. It wasn’t doing OCR on the image. It turns out our operating summary is actually a screenshot. Not actual text.
Healy: Oh, it’s not text?
Haje: And so I fixed it. So now if it comes across any slide, it tries to run OCR and actually analyze it. So-
Healy: Oh, cool.
Haje: … I ran-
Healy: Cool.
Haje: … it later, and now the-
Healy: Awesome.
Haje: … unit economics actually goes green. So, thank you for helping me-
Healy: Amazing.
Haje: … find a bug.
Healy: Wow. You should have shared the update with me. We could have run through there. We would have to talk about it, but-
Haje: Oh, it’s fun. I mean, I like the-
Healy: … why now?
Haje: … historic thing.
Healy: Okay. All right. All right. I like your why now. I always find that you articulate this really well. It’s part of the storytelling and kind of the hook to get the investors to understand this is the moment that you’re going to make something shine, so.
Haje: Yeah. And we actually added a separate slide for this as an appendix in our slide deck, which specifically spells out the why now, which I think we mostly did to satisfy. It’s an ugly slide, but it does actually have three anchors that anchors this startup in time. It basically says that, hey, the reason we couldn’t do this five years ago is there wasn’t AI tech, and the consumer financing revolution hasn’t happened yet kind of thing.
Healy: Yeah. If my memory is serving me well, I think you had us put this slide in here because you have the strategy of, hey, the last slide in the deck is the one you’re getting up sitting on during questions, so you want to have something that really aggressively sells your business when you’re getting all these questions coming at you. So I’m pretty sure that’s why we put this in here. It was we finished our presentation. We’re going to sit here, and now we’re going to let you ask me a bunch of questions, Mr. or Mrs. VC-
Haje: While we’re staring at this slide. Yeah.
Healy: And while you’re doing that, we’re going to have this slide up there so that you can have kind of these positive thoughts in your head. So good strategy.
Haje: We’re sneaky, Healy. We’re sneaky.
Healy: I just wanted to say it again, because I thought it was brilliant. Okay. All right. Well, here now, to identify the problem moat. And I would have to say, I think it’s right. See, I don’t know if we ever had much of a moat in here, which is pretty hard to do if you’re a CRM for plumbers. Why can’t somebody else make a CRM for plumbers?
Haje: Right. Well, and there are generic CRMs. And I think actually, let me just read out what the AI wrote here, because I think this is actually super correct. Your company doesn’t seem to have a clear moat or competitive advantage. It’s important to have an unfair advantage in order to stand out in a competitive industry. Can you explain how your company is defendable? What unique insights or knowledge do you possess about this industry that nobody else knows, and what is your unfair advantage? I think all of that is true. And if I were an investor, and I’d be like, “Hmm. I don’t think it makes sense to invest in this.” Because unless you can get extraordinary traction and have some sort of hook, why can’t people just run Salesforce or one of the many other CRMs?
Healy: Yeah. This was a good slide, and it’s one of the reasons why starting that particular business might be a problem. In particular, because-
Haje: Several reasons.
Healy: … we’re not the made-up team in there either, so we wouldn’t have all the knowledge of plumbers. Overall story. This is interesting. How does it even know how to get the overall story? I guess it just knows from you talking about overall story and all the rundowns that you’ve done with people? That’s amazing.
Haje: It knows five archetypes. And I haven’t written this up yet, but I will. It has five story archetypes, and it sees if it matches one of those archetypes. And basically-
Healy: Wow.
Haje: … it’s just various slide ordering and ways of telling stories that work. If you have a really strong team, you start with the team slide, and then you probably tell the story from there. If you have extremely good traction, you might start with what are we doing? But here’s the traction kind of thing. And so, it basically sees, whether it uses examples, what is it doing to really help tell the story? And it matches it to essentially just seeing whether there’s a there, there.
Healy: Very cool. I had no idea you had five archetypes. When you come out with those, let me know. I’ll definitely want to read through them. What is hard? So, this says it’d be helpful to explain what makes your startup hard to replicate. I mean, this is a little bit overlapped with the moat? Or is this something else? What is this?
Haje: So I think it’s hard the to replicate, but also occasionally, I see startups that are objectively good ideas, but are just too easy to put together. If you can build this startup over a weekend-long hackathon, and if there’s nothing, if there are no unusual insights or competitive advantages, I think a lot of founders fall into the trap of like, “Oh, I’m experiencing this problem. Lots of other people must be experiencing this problem. I’m going to go build a startup.” And so really, the what is hard is there is some overlap with how easy it is to copy. But also, this is actually one of the most interesting slides for me, because what it does, it actually does a public Google search, and it sees how many other companies are out there doing this, and then tries to come up with some sort of like, “Is there a differentiator between what this company’s trying to do and what else is out there?”
Healy: Wow, that’s pretty awesome. I mean, could we reverse-engineer that and have it create our competition slide for us? That’s really cool.
Haje: I mean, that would be cool. That would be cool. But that’s actually what it does for the competition slide, too. It does a search and sees whether it matches up the competition with other stuff it can find out there. And it actually can give feedback like-
Healy: That’s really cool.
Haje: … “Hey. There are other startups doing this that you don’t have on your slide deck.” It’ll tell you.
Healy: All right. Cool. Exit strategy?
Haje: Okay. So this is actually interestingly a bug. So, the text on here is not related to exit strategy.
Healy: Really? Okay.
Haje: Yeah. This is the text that should have shown up for the final notes. So, it gives a green, which is accurate, right? It doesn’t talk about exit strategies, which is correct, but the actual commentary here, this is an old bug that we’ve since fixed, but yeah. It’s the wrong text.
Healy: Got it. Okay, great. Very cool.
Haje: This is where the 1% best deck comes in.
Healy: Right. Okay, cool. So, it says we have a pretty strong likelihood of fundraising. It’s extremely precise. I love that. And then it talks about where we can find you, right? So, I guess this is an older. What is this?
Haje: This is an analysis of you know where it says at the top, “30% of people get this wrong”? This breaks all of the different categories down. I don’t know why I started including it. I think it’s interesting, and I think it’s interesting-
Healy: I think it’s cool.
Haje: … to be able to benchmark yourself against other people.
Healy: Let’s talk about this a little bit. So, I think it’s amazing. I think it’s probably a very useful tool, particularly for a seed-stage founder who’s trying to raise a little bit of money or get things going. This is a way to get really experienced advice in a short period of time without having to pay $10,000 to get a consultant to help them. And particularly if you can iterate through it a few times, you can watch yourself improve. I wouldn’t be surprised, and I actually have heard of some VCs starting to use tools like this to kind of do a first-line review. Now, I don’t know if they’re using it to just reject, or if they’re using it to know what questions to ask when they actually meet with the founders, but this is going to happen. Your pitch decks are going to start to get analyzed by some sort of AI technology by a lot-
Haje: That’s already happening. Yeah.
Healy: … of VCs. So, I think founders probably need to get ready for that. Of course, then that leads to this whole thing of pitch deck optimization, sort of like search engine optimization. Does it-
Haje: People are already doing that. Yeah.
Healy: Yeah? They are? You’ve heard of that?
Haje: Yeah, yeah. No, absolutely.
Healy: Wow.
Haje: And it’s even just labeling the slides, because you don’t know how good the AI is actually looking at your pitch deck. And so, for a while, for storytelling purposes, like, “Get clever with the headings. Be fun.” No, don’t do that. If it’s a team slide, say team, and nothing else at the top of the slide. Help the AI out. Make it as easy to understand as possible. I’ve seen a few of these tools demoed, actually. And what often happens is that people, they’re not necessarily rejecting based on it, but they’re highlighting it. It’s like, “Hey, this team seems to have these three things nailed down, but it seems like it might be out of thesis for you.” Or, “It seems like they’re focusing on Germany. Make sure that that’s right.” That kind of thing. And there’s a few. There’s a startup called Deck match that is doing this and selling that as a service to VCs, where you basically throw a PDF at them, and it spits out structured data that you can use to match against your investment thesis, and so it becomes super easy to reject stuff if it’s out of thesis. And even just doing that-
Healy: Wow.
Haje: … saves you a ton of time, right?
Healy: Right. Because then the best VCs get way more decks than they can meet with founders. Amazing. Very cool. So, what is your advice to founders as they’re putting together their pitch decks now, particularly in the age of AI? What should they be thinking about how they produce their decks right now?
Haje: I think having a great amount of clarity for what you are wanting to accomplish. I know we kind of mentioned that a couple of times, but I think that seems to still be the thing that people stumble over very often. Have a clear ask, have a clear use of funds. And make people lean in. What is it that is unique about your company that nobody else is doing? What is the thing that is the wow factor, the X factor, or whatever you want to call it? Lead with that. As an investor, you sit there day in, day out, and look at pitches, look at startups. As a founder, walk in there and say, “I am special because X, Y, Z.” Let that be the first stuff out of your mouth, and then from there, you can kind of build. I had a pitch coaching client-
Healy: I totally agree.
Haje: … the other day who came in and was like, “I’m going to do something in the nuclear space.” I was like, “Oh, God. Sure, you are.” And as far as I can tell, he didn’t have a doctorate. I was like, “Oh, God.” He’s an older white dude. And I was like, “Okay. Are we really doing this? And we sat there and talked for 40 minutes.” And I was like, “Okay. I just don’t believe you, dude.” And he was like, “Oh. And I used to run the DOE. I wrote all these laws, all the senators are my friends.” And I was like, “Oh, okay. You might be the one person in the world who can actually put forward a real case for doing something in the nuclear sector because you already ran the entire DOE for 20 years, and you’re the equivalent of a four-star general.” Like, “Yes, fine.”
Healy: So you probably should have said that upfront in your deck, right?
Haje: That should be the first words out of your mouth. And I’m like, “Okay. That is how you do storytelling. Find the one thing that you have that nobody else has,” because do you have patents? Talk about it. Do you have incredible traction? Talk about it. Are you stealing customers from your biggest competitor every single day? Talk about it. I had one funder who came in and was like, “Have you heard of Salesforce?” And everybody’s like, “Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard of Salesforce.” “Let me quickly look.” He pulls up his phone. He’s like, “Today, we stole 90 customers from them because we’re doing something that they can’t.” And I was like, “You have my attention. I will listen to every word you have to say for the rest of this pitch because you have such a strong hook.”
Healy: That’s awesome. That’s great advice. I love that. So-
Haje: And the truth is, if you don’t have that, then you maybe shouldn’t be running a startup. If you don’t have something that is so unique or so special, if you don’t stand out, you’re in the wrong business, in my opinion.
Healy: Yeah. Maybe. I think the flip side would be though, maybe you can start it without raising venture funding and the proof will be in the pudding, right? You actually will perform, and then that’s how you get people to put down their iPhone. You’re like, “Listen, this is how much we’ve just grown.” It’s like, “Okay.”
Haje: Well, if that is the thing you have, then start with that, right? But if you have nothing that is an obvious hook, if you have nothing that is a bust-through-the-wall-with-a-jug-of-Kool-Aid moment, I’m like, “This is not-“
Healy: You’re dating yourself there, but yeah.
Haje: Well, if you don’t have that moment, then you don’t really have a pitch. And I think-
Healy: Agreed.
Haje: … that would be my one piece of advice is find the one-
Healy: I agree.
Haje: … thing that makes you impossible to ignore, and then lead with that.
Healy: Amazing. Awesome. All right. So, I always love talking with you. It’s always a lot of fun. If founders want to talk with you, how should they find you? How should they find the AI pitch deck? How should they find you? If they need help on their decks, where can they find you?
Haje: I am so easy to find: Pitch Guide. I’ve got a whole bunch of information on there. That’s where the AI pitch guide is. Come find me. Try it out. I mean, I had so many decks come through that I wasn’t able to do it for free anymore, it’s costing me too much money, so now I’m taking a $10 charity donation. So, pay your $10 charity donation, it hits the brakes just enough that it’s still affordable for me to run this tool, and try it out. Who knows? You might learn something.
Healy: Amazing. That’s awesome, man. Well, thank you so much again. I appreciate your time and look forward to talking to you again. Well, I’m sure we’ll do another podcast in the next year or so.
Haje: Pleasure, as always.

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